The Visible Church: Historiography of African American Religion Since Raboteau

Paul Harvey

A few weeks ago I blogged about the wonderful AAR session devoted to a 30th anniversary retrospective of Albert Raboteau's Slave Religion. I now wish that, prior to this event, I had been alerted to the recent article by Sylvia Frey, which Rebecca Goetz has just brought to my attention:

I just read a fantastic lit review in the March 2008 Slavery and Abolition by Sylvia Frey: "The Visible Church: HIstoriography of African American Religion since Raboteau." I highly recommend it.

Indeed, this is a state of the art piece, synthesizing the historiography of religious expressions in the African diaspora from the 1440s to the eve of the American Civil War. It does not cover the period since emancipation, so the title is a bit misleading, but the substance of the piece is an indispensable overview of the last generation of work on the religious expressions of enslaved peoples in the Western Hemisphere. It's not online presently, will be I think after a one-year embargo, but I was able to get it inter-library loaned electronically. So, ordered it last night, received it by PDF this morning. Sometimes progress is good!

The article focuses on placing the study of "slave religion" in its full Atlantic context, noting especially works such as John Thornton's Africa and Africans and Linda Heywood's Central Africans and the Cultural Transformations in the American Diaspora (I was totally unfamiliar with Heywood -- got to get that for our library immediately!). Also, as is true of much of this new work, Catholicism plays a much more central role in African American religious history than appeared in an earlier generation of work, in Brazil and the Carribean of course but in North America as well.

Frey concludes: "It is fair to conclude by noting that more sophisticated methodologies developed since the publication of Raboteau's Slave Religion have advanced the historiography to such a level that what was largely invisible about African influence in the making of the Atlantic religious universe is now increasingly visible."

The full reference: Sylvia R. Frey, "The Visible Church: Historiography of African American Religion Since Raboteau," SLAVERY AND ABOLITION 29 (March 2008): 83-110.


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rjc said…
Thanks for the tip, Paul. What a great resource. Also, your inability to get the article online is probably due to your institution's subscription; I was able to get it online without any problem.
Matt Sutton said…
It looks like this essay is from January 2008 (not March).

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